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Women In Engineering: No Longer A Man’s World

Xiaole Kuang, Shivani Mukherjee and Hannah Vergara

Who run the world? (From left) Xiaole Kuang, Shivani Mukherjee and Hannah Vergara

This International Women’s Day, we sat down for a conversation with three of Grab’s female engineers, two of whom are team leaders. What follows are their experiences navigating the world of engineering – traditionally seen as a ‘man’s world’. As one of our featured profiles Xiaole says, it is important that women see, and hear from, other women in engineering. We hope these stories will inspire any woman out there to pursue their dreams!

 

Hannah Vergara, engineering lead for quality assurance

Hannah manages a team of 15 quality assurance engineers in Grab, of which over half are women.

Hannah Vergara

My personal journey

“When I studied computer engineering in university, I was one of two girls in a class of 20. Later on, I worked in firms where I was the sole female Quality Assurance (QA) engineer! Thankfully, I never felt singled out for being a woman in these companies. That said, I have encountered hirers in the past who asked questions about my marital status. While unintentional, questions like ‘Do you plan to have kids?’ can make women feel like they will be considered less productive if they have family commitments.”

My thoughts on women in tech

“In my work, quality can be approached from different angles. So having a gender-balanced team definitely helps. I find that male engineers think in more straightforward terms while women are more detail-oriented. They think out of the box and will consider all use cases, including edge cases and negative scenarios. When building a product, you want a good mix of those perspectives.”

A culture of respect   

“Respect is a core value in Grab. I’ve seen it in how our teams debate and settle differences cordially, and how the leaders conduct themselves. Whenever I make a new hire, I always assess if the person shares those values. A culture of respect ensures that every person and their viewpoints are valued.”

Engineering, to me, is…

“The building block for change. Engineers don’t just identify problems; they work on solutions. Coming from Metro Manila, working on a transport app has meaning for me because I know how expensive and time-consuming jams can be. I get excited whenever I go home and see changes on the road. I know there will be more solutions to come.”  

 

Xiaole Kuang, lead engineer for payments

Xiaole leads a team of seven engineers working on GrabPay, Grab’s cashless payments solution. Most of her team is male.

Xiaole Kuang

As a female manager

“I think some people are surprised when they hear that, as a woman, I manage a team of engineers. But I shrug it off. I don’t see my team as working for me. My job is to empower them to do their best work. If they believe they have a better method than I do, I will enable them by all means.”

My thoughts on women in tech

“I don’t look at gender when building my team. I want people with the right skills and personality, and I won’t downgrade my standards. But I believe there is a case for having more women in the industry. There are very few female leaders in IT, much less CTOs. There are times when I’ve even questioned how far I can go in this field. We need to see more role models so women can believe in their own potential to progress.”

Engineering, to me, is…

“Very creative. We’re doing things at Grab that no one else has done before. For instance, my team is building up a cashless payments solution for Grab. But how do we get people in cash-based economies to put digital money into an app? You need a lot of creativity to solve such problems, especially when there are no obvious answers.

Increasingly, I find communication skills are becoming more important than technical skills in engineering. No job is a ‘solo’ one these days. It’s all about teamwork. Engineers must know how to express themselves and convince others of their ideas.”

My advice for women

“If you are a woman in a male-dominated team, my advice is: Don’t think of yourself as a woman on the team. Just focus on the tasks and do what you believe is best for the company.”

 

Shivani Mukherjee, a quality assurance engineer

As the lead engineer for driver payments, Shivani is working to further automate the pay-out process for Grab’s drivers.  

Shivani

My personal journey

“Growing up in India, I saw how girls were pressured to leave school, or even jobs, to care for their families, while their brothers continued their education. Thankfully, my family was liberal and I was raised without expectations of what a ‘girl’s role’ should be. Being naturally curious and deductive, I gravitated toward engineering in college.

My thoughts on women in tech

“I still remember how some of my college professors had second thoughts of sending me and some female students to a national robotics competition. We went ahead and aced it, and were featured in papers! That’s exactly what women need to do: Set the trends. Don’t follow them. Sadly, there is still a perception that men are the ‘techies’. We have to break the stigma that women do better in roles like human resources, finance and commerce, but not hardcore engineering or mobile development.”

Engineering, to me, is…

“Highly dynamic. The idea that engineers just code is outdated. Anyone can build a mobile phone these days, but what’s the difference between an Apple iPhone and yet another device? It’s how the user feels about Apple, which is where the business perspective comes in. Engineers now have to go beyond technical roles to consider things like the user experience, business and customer requirements.”

My advice for women

“Challenge anybody – or anything – who questions your abilities. Always tell yourself that you deserve better. For instance, if you’re in a grade one engineering role, think about how you can hit the next grade. Constantly strive for more so you won’t be complacent.”

Inspired? Grab is hiring. We welcome people from all walks of life into our family as long as you share our values and passion for improving lives across Southeast Asia. Check out our careers page for job opportunities.